Why it matters

Applying the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, a California appellate panel reversed a trial court’s denial of a class certification motion and remanded the case. A group of employees of American Medical Response charged their employer with violating state labor code and wage orders by failing to provide the mandated meal and rest periods, seeking to certify multiple classes. A trial court denied the motion and the plaintiffs appealed. Applying Augustus to the facts of the case, the appellate panel reversed in part. A rest period during which a worker remains “on call” must be compensated, the court explained, and the trial court held that if an employee is on call but not interrupted, the time should be considered off duty and not compensable. Because of this incorrect legal assumption about the nature of rest periods, the appellate panel vacated the denial of certification on the claim and remanded the case to the trial court for additional consideration.

Detailed discussion

Four employees of American Medical Response filed a putative class action against their employer, alleging that they did not receive the meal and rest periods to which they were entitled under Labor Code Sections 226.7 and 512 and the applicable wage orders. The EMTs and dispatchers moved to certify a class composed of two subclasses based on the different positions of the workers.

The employer opposed the motion, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to identify classwide policies regarding meal and rest periods that were consistently applied and emphasizing the discrepancies among the workers in each of the subclasses, with 18 different geographic operations and communications centers, which AMR said had different approaches to meal and rest breaks.

A trial court sided with AMR, ruling that the plaintiffs did not satisfy the community of interest requirement and denying the motion to certify. The court based the decision in part on its conclusion that a meal or rest period during which an employee remains “on call” but is not actually interrupted is properly characterized as an “off duty” period.

The plaintiffs appealed. While the case was pending, the California Supreme Court issued Augustus v. ABM Security Services, holding that on-call rest periods are impermissible under state law and that employers must provide employees with off duty rest periods where they are relieved of all duties. “[O]ne cannot square the practice of compelling employees to remain at the ready, tethered by time and policy to particular locations or communications devices, with the requirement to relieve employees of all work duties and employer control during 10-minute rest periods,” the court wrote.

In light of the decision, the appellate panel elected to exercise its discretion to treat the appeal as a petition for extraordinary writ, recognizing that the trial court reached its decision without the benefit of the Supreme Court’s decision in Augustus.

“Because the trial court’s decision to deny class certification with respect to AMR’s overarching rest period policy rests on its legal conclusion that a rest period during which an employee remains on call may be considered an off-duty rest period, and because that conclusion is incorrect under Augustus, we must reverse and remand even if other reasons not relied upon might support the trial court’s decision,” the court wrote.

The appellate panel noted that “other bases” may exist for the trial court to conclude that the plaintiffs have not shown the predominance of common issues required for class certification of their rest period claim. “For example, although plaintiffs presented evidence that AMR’s policy is for employees to be on-call during rest periods, and that AMR has no policy or practice of paying additional compensation to employees who are not provided a rest period, as required by the wage order, AMR presented evidence that different policies and practices have applied at different times and places and to different types of employees,” the court said.

Vacating the denial of certification with respect to rest periods, the appellate panel left the question of whether to certify the claims to the trial court on remand.

However, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision not to certify a class with regard to meal breaks. AMR came forward with evidence to show that employees in different operations were dispatched and took meal periods in different ways, with substantial evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that individual inquiries would predominate, the appellate panel wrote.

To read the opinion in Bartoni v. American Medical Response West, click here.